For the past three decades Nintendo's Metroid saga has given players the chance to explore a vast science fiction universe filled with lore, wonders and hazards from the perspective of the one and only Samus Aran, the galaxy's greatest bounty hunter. As such, it's easy to forget that all her struggles form but a small part of a huge, largely untapped universe. The Galactic Federation Force is no stranger to Metroid veterans; we have witnessed holovids of brave Galactic Federation troopers from the G.F.S. Tyr hopelessly fighting off the Ing in Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, while we fought alongside GFed demolition troopers during the events of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. We even felt the long reach of influence from the Galactic Federation itself in the events of Metroid: Other M and Metroid Fusion.
In a bold move Nintendo is turning to the old narrative trick of removing the hero from the spotlight and allowing the player to experience events from the perspective of the unknown soldier - in this case, fresh out of the academy GFed troopers piloting brand new shiny metal toys. But is Metroid Prime: Federation Force really worthy of the name?
The game takes place after the events of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption and the galaxy is still in turmoil despite the destruction of planet Phaaze. Perhaps tired of being utterly useless in the role of protecting Galactic Federation citizens from all that is wicked in the galaxy (or even more likely, running out of cash to cover Samus' protection fees), Operation Golem is approved. The goal is to achieve technological superiority over the Space Pirates via the development and deployment of Mechs - hulking robotic suits of armour piloted by specially-trained GFed soldiers. Thus the titular Federation Force is established. The game picks up as you, fresh out of the academy, arrive at your new home, the G.F.S. Aegis, which is currently orbiting planet Excelcion in the Bermuda system.
Something immediately caught our attention when playing Metroid Prime: Federation Force - the amount of graphical polish Next Level Games has given the finished product is astounding. Presentation is stellar, even more so if you use the stereoscopic 3D effect to its fullest, with the cut-scenes from the solo campaign especially coming out on top. From small details like the hand of your Trooper mimicking your selections from the bottom screen menu to the various planetary environments and foes, everything truly feels like a part of the Metroid Prime canvas (despite the new and rather controversial super-deformed art style). If you enjoyed the aesthetics of the Prime trilogy, you should find much to like here.
Don't worry about your ears either; the interactive soundtrack shifts from mellow and eerie to strident and tense, and the battle themes that play when you encounter threats really get your pulse racing. Elsewhere, sound effects truly deliver the impact of your ordinance, effectively communicating the power of each shot. As you'd expect from Next Level Games - the studio which produced the similarly gorgeous Luigi's Mansion 2 - Federation Force looks and sounds fantastic; we wish all developers would spend as much time making sure the 3DS hardware is being pushed as hard.
Releasing Metroid Prime: Blast Ball ahead of this (and permanently for free in Europe) was a smart move by Nintendo, not only ensuring awareness for the final game but also making sure everyone was already trained in controlling the Mech. If you took part in the tutorial training mission already, you will be happy to know that the game picks up and imports your save data, carrying the training mission completion as well as your Blast Ball career achievements. There are two control schemes available, with the first taking advantage of the 3DS gyroscope for precise aiming when holding the R shoulder button, not at all unlike using the Wii U GamePad's gyroscope for aiming in Splatoon.
The second scheme is for people with the New 3DS or the Circle Pad Pro peripheral, and enables the classic two analog stick FPS configuration, with the "R" shoulder button now used for firing and "L" replacing "B" for jumping and hovering. Players will certainly be divided between both since neither gives you an upper hand gameplay wise, so it largely comes down to personal taste. Next Level Games must have known how much of a deal breaker controls would be for this experience, and we're glad to announce they have succeed in getting very close to the silky controls of Metroid Prime Trilogy for this portable outing, a feat worthy of praise.
Being a very complete package, Federation Force offers both solo and multiplayer modes. The single player campaign takes place in the Bermuda System, and you are deployed on three different planets. Excelcion is a frozen wasteland that has somehow caught the attention of the Space Pirates trying to salvage a weapon from abandoned Galactic Federation facilities. Bion, on the other hand, is a desert wasteland where you will investigate the remains of an extinct alien civilization and try to unlock its secrets. Talvania is a gaseous planet where once prospered an ancient robotic civilization. Their technology is decaying dangerously and of course it has become a target of interest for the Space Pirates. Three different environments might not sound like much, but fortunately the 22 missions are more than enough to keep the lone Mech jockey occupied.
Don't worry about having to do the same thing over and over again, either. There is plenty of variety on offer here with missions testing your trigger finger, while others allow you to flex your puzzle-solving skills and environmental awareness; herding Ice Titans into cages has no right to be this much fun. It was while reading the various logs in order to learn more back story for each planet and exploring every nook and cranny of the mission area - for hidden Mech mods that bestow your robot with bonuses - that we arrived to our "Eureka" moment: this is a Metroid Prime game. Sure, the Mech moves slower and is more cumbersome than an agile bounty hunter running around in Chozo armour, but once you get into the swing of things combat quickly becomes incredibly smooth and intuitive.
If you do feel a bit lonely, you can take up to three autonomous drones that fly around your Mech and add to your firepower. If the difficulty is getting on your nerves (that could well happen around mission ten or so) there's a Lone Wolf Mech Mod that allows you to dish out twice the damage while receiving only half in return. Of course this mod is restricted to Solo mode, but it is a clever solution to keep things fair for the single players among you.
Even so, the Galactic Federation wasn't established by lone wolves (or lonely bounty hunters for that matter); it's all about co-operation. In case the cover art didn't give it away, a big chunk of the Federation Force experience is being a part of a four Mech squad. Multiplayer options include both local and online types, with every mission unlocked from the Solo campaign able to accommodate squads of up to four human players, while the frantic Blast Ball mode permits two teams of three Mechs to face each other for goal scoring glory. Having four human brains cooperating to tackle the various mission challenges the game throws at you is what Federation Force is truly all about.
There's a lot to enjoy with this game by oneself, but in order to fully appreciate it - and vastly improve those high scores - you have to become a part of a squad. Good teams will try to balance out their loadouts for specific roles, such as medic or heavy weapons specialist. Depending on the missions you choose to tackle some "classes" fair better than others, so it is up to the other teammates to complement your choice of profession. Of course there are no real classes as such in the game; everyone gets the same Mech model, customized with mods and paint jobs (two of them exclusive from both Samus amiibo), so if you want to be a medic just load up as many repair capsules as you can carry and then shoot your allies when you see their energy go below 50 percent.
We do mean "carry" literally, as your Mech's loadout is limited to the amount of weight it can bear, but you can change this by using certain mods. Meeting one of the many bosses alone and with only Repair Kits to throw at is just failure waiting to happen, so make sure you keep the guys and gals carrying those Super Missiles healthy. Finding some decent players to be part of your squad is yet another moment of brilliance in the making; it is incredibly rewarding when a squad clicks together and you tackle those troublesome missions from the Solo Campaign with a bunch of like-minded friends or strangers. Oh, and don't worry if one of your teammates goes around grabbing all the mods found on a mission - in the debrief everyone takes turns picking the spoils one at a time. Who said there was no democracy in the military?
We are perhaps a bit spoiled by the likes of Xenoblade Chronicles X or LBX: Little Battle eXperience when it comes to customisation, and as such would love to be able to tinker a little more with our Mech for greater individuality. As it stands your whole squad is only differentiated by the paint jobs and colour hue, with all the customisation done in the loadouts section invisible to the naked eye. We feel that the ability to customize your Mech exterior would bring another level of depth, but as they say, there is no "I" in "Team". If the lack of deep customization might not be a real issue for most, communication between players is however a key concern.
If you are playing locally with friends it is easy to shout orders, ask for help or warn of immediate dangers, but while playing online you are limited to the set phrases the game allows you to pick. Be warned that despite allowing you to pick your trooper voice, the people on your squad might not understand your cool Japanese shouts for danger. The game also displays the text on the bottom screen, but trust us when we say you won't have much chance to read it in the middle of a Space Pirate ambush. Real-time voice chat would be a valuable asset for this game's online experience.
But is Federation Force still worth playing after you are done with the campaign? The answer is yes. Every mission is scored on your ability complete it, regarding factors such as time, bonus objectives, amount of enemies destroyed and so on. It actually shares a lot of design DNA with Star Fox Guard. If you are the kind of player who loves to improve on performance, alone or with a team, the game offers quite a lot of replay value at the cost of the surprises from the first play-through. Plus there is always the chaos of Blast Ball to mess about with if you're short on time and just want to hop in your Mech for a bit.
Despite the undue hate it has been subjected to over the past year, Metroid Prime: Federation Force is a very impressive, polished and playable package - the only real grumble we have is that during online play the lack of voice chat can become maddening, and the game's built-in chat function is an inadequate substitute. This aside, Next Level Games has treated the franchise with the respect that it deserves while successfully attempting to bring co-op multiplayer to the world of Samus Aran. While you don't get to play as her here, it's easy to accept that this game is all about the unknown soldier, the average space Joe (or space Jane) who signed up for their military service in the Galactic Federation. Once you become comfortable with that and the excellent tutorials draw you in, you have in your hands yet another fantastic Nintendo offering for your 3DS.
We look forward to seeing what the future of this particular spin off holds, because as it stands right now Federation Force is an impressive and solid foundation; it's more than able to satisfy hardcore Metroid fans until the inevitable return of Samus Aran.